New art class combines technology, natural spaces

Students in a new digital art class create works with technology new and old, including books of maps from the stacks of Love Library.

Story and photo by Rachel Albin, NewsNetNebraska

Carrying a stack of oversize maps toward Richards Hall Sept. 2, senior art major Tony Nguyen and sophomore graphic design major Jesse Kudron flexed their muscles for art.

They are students of a new class, Special Topics in Digital Media Arts, that focuses on landscape. The class was added this semester to the lineup of the Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Digital Arts Initiative courses that first appeared last fall. Digital art courses span visual art, music, theater and film. Each course has 16 seats: four each for art students, music students and students of theater and film. The remaining four seats are open to students of any major.

Assistant professor Jeff Thompson said the class is less focused on technique than traditional art classes of sketching and painting and more on “an expanded practice of art” and getting students to think creatively.

“The idea in so many classes you get, it’s about a really particular kind of idea and a really particular way you’re taught to do it,” Thompson said. “It’s very regimented and that’s really important for art students because you have to learn these skills, but the other and equally important part of being an artist is that you’re a thinker and you have to have interesting thoughts.”

The class is set up as what Thompson called a “research studio,” in which students form a creative think tank on a defined topic. The end goal is not necessarily a finished product, Thompson said, but a mass of related ideas.

Thompson said the class focus on landscape stems from his past work painting in nature and the rich history of landscape art, dating back to cave paintings that interpreted the landscape while being a part of it.

Kudron, who is also Thompson’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences (UCare) assistant, said the landscape theme was appropriate for a digital art class.

“Digital art is a new landscape,” he said. Kudron, who started out as a computer science major, said he’d like to work with computer code and 3-D art in his class projects.

The students and Thompson spent half of Thursday’s class period listening to art history professors lecture on the tradition of landscape art.
The students spent the other half of class entrenched in the stacks of Love Library, where they looked for visually interesting maps for an open-ended “remix” assignment.

Students must work in pairs to digitally fuse several maps together through video, photography, scans, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or any other digital means they wish. They also have the option to include non-digital processes including collage and performance art.

Kudron and Nguyen were inspired by large-scale, color maps of the U.S.-Canada border and irrigation in India, among other obscure sites.

Nguyen said he had no idea the class was about landscapes until school started, but he’s looking forward to the open-ended projects.
“It’s nothing I was interested in before,” he said. “I’m open to it all.”

Students typically work in a private computer lab in Richards Hall reserved for Digital Art Initiative classes, but Thompson plans to get them outside of the classroom often.

Upcoming projects include visits to the Nine-Mile Prairie, the State Capitol and Morrill Hall. The students will collect GPS data on mini-computers to use later in creative ways. They will critique past interpretations of landscape, including the displays of natural history at Morrill Hall and the symbolic mosaics at the capitol.
Later in the semester, students will also create temporary urban art in downtown Lincoln and put together a final exhibition of ideas at Drift Station on 18th and N streets, a gallery Thompson is opening.

“I think when people think of visual art, you think of painting and sculpture. As an artist I’ve found over time that my work is less and less visual and I’m interested less and less in composition and those kind of traditional art things,” Thompson said, “That’s the way more artists are working so that’s our job to train students to do that, too.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *